Archives For Calvinism

In October 2006, Dr. Jerry Vines preached a series of sermons at First Baptist Church, Woodstock entitled “Baptist Battles.” The four main battles which comprised this series were the battle over Liberalism, Pentecostalism, “Libertinism” (alcohol), and Calvinism. To use the term “battle” might be edgy rhetoric for Southern Baptists since the Conservative Resurgence (post 1979 era), but for the sake of this blogpost, I will concede to that term for the purpose of argument.

Dr. Danny Akin shared in his convention address last week what was a fear of the late Dr. Adrian Rogers, namely that those fighting the legitimate battle for the Bible would eventually go back to the barracks and turn on one another (with fighting in their hearts). Perhaps there has been no greater evidence of this reality than that of the “battle over Calvinism.”

I am one who grew up in the middle of this battle. My first four years of ministry witnessed a surge of Reformed theology in college (1997-2001), followed by four years in the revivalist/anti-Calvinist culture (2001-2004). The third set of four years was spent at Southern Seminary when the term “young, restless, and reformed” generation was coined (2004-2008). In fact, in many ways my journey biographically was a microcosm of the larger narrative such that Collin Hansen (who wrote the book) shared a portion of my life story in his book. The fourth set of four years has been as a pastor of a confessionally Reformed church (2008-2012), where I continue to serve today.

As I mentioned in my reflections on #SBC13, the tone and conversation regarding Calvinism is perhaps the best it has been since I’ve been involved in Southern Baptist life. I took some time to reflect on the past 15 years, and I thought I’d share my big picture take on the “Baptist Battle of Calvinism.

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A lot of folks in the SBC who have been paying attention to the long-standing Calvinism debate have been anticipating the formation of the Page Peace Committee. Dr. Frank Page, president of the Executive Committee of the SBC, announced earlier this year that he was planning to form a “consensus accord”. In May, he explained:

“Given the depth of the fracture lines around the issue of soteriology across the Convention, I sense a need to assemble a representative group of Southern Baptists who can hammer out such a consensus ‘accord’ that will enable the majority of Southern Baptists to work together for the Kingdom purposes which initially bound us together, an initiative I plan to announce at this year’s annual meeting.” (emphasis mine)

Sounds like a great idea. When I heard this, I too went to the SBC Annual Meeting with high hopes and encouraged my Calvinist brethren to work for a Great Commission consensus. While the battle lines had already been drawn, several months prior to the annual meeting, the largely anti-Calvinist crowd had loaded ammunition, so it seemed, and fired away with dozens of blogposts up until the week when we came together. By the time we met in New Orleans, it became clear that the messengers of the SBC had no desire to continue the bickering and infighting, soundly rejecting any attempt by motion or resolution to continue the blustering actions of a few on the blogosphere. Page was one of several voices setting the tone of the convention hall, as the Baptist Press liveblog recounted:

Executive Committee President Frank Page delivered the EC’s second report. Page addressed the issue of Calvinism, saying, “Calvinism is an issue amongst us.” He added, “I’m not a Calvinist … but a lot of our people are.” Page said he is concerned that there are some non-Calvinists who are more concerned about rooting out Calvinists than they are about winning lost to Christ. On the flip side, Page said he is concerned about Calvinists who view those who disagree with them as unintelligent. He referenced the panel that will “chart a way” forward for both sides, but Page did not announce any members of the panel. The two sides of the issue have walked arm in arm for the Great Commission for years, Page said, and should continue to do so. (emphasis mine, see also the BP story on Page’s address)

The big takeaway from New Orleans was to be the developments of Dr. Page’s “peace committee” (or advisory group) and what exactly this new group would seek to accomplish. Yesterday, the names and intentions of this group was announced through Baptist Press. The purpose of the group, according to Dr. Page is:

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Earlier today, I came across the video below through a tweet by Voddie Baucham. John 3:16 is used, especially in the SBC circles, to be a soteriological line of demarcation by non-Calvinists to distinguish what they believe about salvation as opposed to Calvinism.  It is assumed that Reformed theology cannot possibly assent to the theology inherent to John 3:16, such as a “whosoever will” gospel proclamation, God’s unconditional love for all mankind without exception, and definite possibility that anyone anywhere can be saved, should they exercise their own free will to choose (in a libertarian sense of indeterminism). In fact, conferences and books have recently been published in polemic fashion to make such a case. If it was possible to lay claim to one verse and subscribe one’s interpretation a measure of infallibility, it appears John 3:16 would be the top of the list. Indeed, some perhaps believe it is the linchpin in the case against Reformed theology.

It goes without saying that perhaps no other verse has more “control beliefs” or presuppositions when coming to the text than this verse. Therefore, the challenge to let the text speak for itself requires all the more “distanciation” – something we all struggle with. Could it be possible that more is going on in our understanding of a text than what the text is actually saying? Invariably to some degree, this is the case, which means that we should be all the more dogged to derive our conclusions based on rigorous exegesis (including contextual considerations) through a humble submission to God’s authoritative Word. Furthermore, I believe doing “theology-in-community” is a necessary hermeneutical filter and means of grace as we recognize no one of us is the sole arbiter of truth. In some sense, blogging can serve that purpose, as we all seek to know and rightly divide the Word of Truth. Unfortunately, we struggle to get to that point as heat eclipses the potential light that might arise from such an occasion.

In any case, I watched this video and was encouraged by what I saw. I don’t know this fella, and I am not familiar with his website. I am posting the video on the sole merits of his arguments, which I think are biblically plausible and exegetically sound. There’s much more that could be said about John 3:16 (as he shares in the end), but for the time he devoted to the subject, I thought it was a good explanation. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this and perhaps have a profitable discussion over the weekend, should that develop in the comments section.

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Jerry Rankin, former President of the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) recently wrote about the perceived unity in the SBC. I think he expresses a legitimate concern for those of us wanting to genuinely cooperate together despite doctrinal differences. Rankin wrote:

The updated Baptist Faith and Message 2000 would supposedly be the definitive statement of faith around which all Southern Baptists could unite. But apparently that is not sufficient. It is not enough to subscribe to the BF&M; if you do not interpret soteriology as I do your doctrine is not only suspect, it is dangerous to the SBC. There have been motions at recent conventions implying calvinists need to be ostracized from the convention.

There is little to commend unity among cookie-cutter conformists. Unity is significant only in the context of diversity. We are a diverse denomination ethnically, generationally, and in church size and forms. And, yes, there are variations in how Baptists understand and interpret matters of faith while holding to the same common foundational doctrines.

Why is unity an illusion? Because there are those who don’t really want unity; they want conformity to their way of thinking. We have an unfortunate record of alienating those who don’t agree with us, no matter how trivial the differences in our viewpoints. Some will remember as the conservative resurgence gained traction a number of moderate leaders drafted proposals for reconciliation for working together. Sadly, they did not realize no one was interested in conciliatory outcomes. The movement gained control by marginalizing and pushing out the moderates. Some would insist the same strategy is needed to produce the pretense of unity around an even narrower perspective of doctrine and ecclesiology today. (emphasis mine)

As for the former head of the largest missions sending agency in the world, Rankin knows the potential impact such narrowing conformity might bring on a Great Commission Resurgence. Indeed, he could speak firsthand of the number of missionaries who are confessionally Reformed and serving among the least reached and hardest places of the world. Nearly ever missionary I know serving with the IMB would be marginalized in the SBC if some, demanding conformity to their narrowing of parameters (or beyond the BF&M), would win the day in the SBC.

Fortunately, I believe there’s a new majority forming in the SBC intolerant of the attempts of a few (mostly online efforts) to, as Rankin puts it, ostracize Calvinists from meaningful cooperation around the Great Commission and confessional consensus (BF&M). He is right to assert that unity is significant in the context of diversity, and within the BF&M, there is allowed for a various theological convictions while at the same time acknowledging there is much upon which we can agree and work together. Here’s to hoping for significant unity through a shared commitment to stand on the inerrant Word, preach the unadulterated gospel, and love the lost for the sake of Christ and His glory.

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J.I. Packer, in his introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, makes the following argument about the “one point of Calvinistic soteriology” – namely the conviction that God saves sinners.

For to Calvinism there is really only one point to be made in the field of soteriology: the point that God saves sinners. God—the Triune Jehovah, Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing. Saves—does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies. Sinners—men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless, unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot. God saves sinners—and the force of this confession may not be weakened by disrupting the unity of the work of the Trinity, or by dividing the achievement of salvation between God and man and making the decisive part man’s own, or by soft-pedaling the sinner’s inability so as to allow him to share the praise of his salvation with his Saviour. This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the “five points” are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny: namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory for ever; amen.

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